Project and Programme Management training from QA

PRINCE2® 2017 – What has changed?

This blog discusses the latest changes to PRINCE2 and answers some important questions on changes to the syllabus and the exams.


Sue Hopgood | 7 July 2017

The new edition of Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2® was published by AXELOS last month. I’ve have been eagerly awaiting this new release since it was announced in early January because PRINCE2® was definitely due an update. The previous edition was published in 2009 and the project management world has evolved a fair bit over the last 8 years. Trainers like me are lucky enough to get draft versions of the final book and most of us have already taken the special trainer update exams, thus ensuring that the learning and development industry is ready to support a new set of courses and exams.

So, what has changed in PRINCE2® 2017? Well, the methodology is much the same as it was, with a few subtle differences that I will discuss in a moment. Any of you already qualified in PRINCE2® will find that we still have the same principles, themes and processes. Large chunks of text are the same and we have some familiar diagrams and management products.

There are differences, however. First let’s look at what has been added. As an instructor, I am very pleased to see a lot more emphasis on tailoring the methodology and practical advice on how this might be done in different project environments. And as an ex-software designer, I’m relieved that there is guidance for projects using an agile delivery approach in almost every chapter. There are also clearer links between the principles and themes.

So what has been taken away or adapted? From an instructor’s point of view it is small but important (when it comes to the exams at least) language changes. The removal of capitals when naming processes, management products and role names is one that comes to mind. For example, the book refers to the senior supplier now rather than Senior Supplier, and initiating a project process rather than Initiating a Project process. Personally, I think this makes it harder to pick out those important products, processes and roles from the text - but it also makes the methodology feel less prescriptive and more tailorable.

If you are about to recertify soon, then note that the strategy documents that the 2009 edition recommended for risk, change, communications and quality have been renamed ‘approaches’. So instead of the Risk Management Strategy we now have the risk management approach. The recommended content, however, usually remains exactly the same. Probably the biggest change is that the Configuration Management Strategy has been renamed the change control approach and the configuration management procedure has been removed.

Another one to watch is that those supporting or maintaining the outputs of a project once the project has closed, like an IT service desk for example, are now more likely to be considered suppliers than users, which was how PRINCE2® 2009 clearly defined them. There are other small changes like this so it pays to read the book carefully.

What about the exams? Any changes there? I’m getting asked a lot about this at the moment. Axelos have used the new 2017 edition as an opportunity to revamp the way that PRINCE2® is examined. They have explained it here, but below is a summary of the changes.

Foundation: There isn’t much change in the way that the Foundation qualification is examined. It is still one hour of multiple choice questions, with 25% extra time if English is not your first language, and the certification will never expire. What has changed is the number of questions – 60 (down from 75) – and the pass mark (up 5%) to 55%. You will be pleased to hear that Axelos have also listened to feedback from the 2009 exams and the Foundation exam will now use less negative questions such as ‘Which of the following is NOT a principle of PRINCE2®?’ because despite putting the word in bold and in capitals, people still manage to miss out the ‘NOT’ in the stress of exam conditions. So, good news there, I think.

Practitioner: This is still multiple choice and 150 minutes (plus the 25% extra time if English is not your first language) with a pass mark of 55%. Everything else has evolved. Firstly the one page scenario plus six to eight pages of ‘additional information’ used in the 2009 exams has been reduced. Thousands of candidates have run out of time in the Practitioner exam over the years because they spent too long trying to read and understand the additional information. I think we are all relieved to hear that there are only two pages of text in the scenario booklet for the 2017 Practitioner exam.

The layout of the question booklet is also completely different. Instead of 80 questions covering 8 of the 10 syllabus areas, you now get examined on the entire methodology. This is a much better idea as previously you could become a PRINCE2 Practitioner without ever demonstrating that you understood key topics such as Risk or Initiating a Project. And you now only get 68 questions, which gives you a bit more time on each one.

The questions flow easily through the methodology, from principles to closing a project. Instead of lengthy additional information to read from the scenario booklet, you now get a few sentences that set the scene at the start of each question. Also, there are no theoretical questions. They are all about how to apply PRINCE2 to the scenario. This is another change from the 2009 exams and a good one.

The big news for those of us who have attempted the 2009 exam is that Axelos have removed the dreaded ‘assertion/reason’ question style and also the ‘multiple response’ questions. In both those cases the candidate had to pick two correct answers to get just one mark. Many a time I have counselled frustrated delegates who consistently picked one right and one wrong and then got zero marks. I am very glad to see the back of those question styles and I suspect I am not alone.

Changes to Certification: If all this is making you think that the 2017 Practitioner exam is going to be easier than the 2009 one then you might be right. Maybe Axelos thought the same, because another change is how long the certificate remains valid for. This has been reduced from five to three years. That’s quite a big deal so I’ll say it again: the new 2017 Practitioner exam only gives you a PRINCE2® Registered Practitioner status for three years. I’m sure you can also do the maths but that’s two years less.

I can see the appeal for AXELOS and it’s not just financial. I have met many, many PRINCE2® Registered Practitioners that put off re-registering because they didn’t like the way the 2009 exams were structured. They didn’t want to go through that pain all over again. With the 2017 Practitioner exam looking less intimidating than the 2009 exam, project managers will be less likely to let their certification lapse. The shorter certification period will mean project managers will have to review the PRINCE2® methodology more frequently and therefore will be more likely to use it in their workplace. This is turn should raise the profile of PRINCE2® and hopefully also result in less projects failing.

Recertify now. As compelling as those arguments are, not everyone is going to be happy with this change. So those of you who are PRINCE2® Registered Practitioners with a certificate that is about to expire in less than a year may well want to get recertified now using the 2009 exams and benefit from being registered for another five years. If so, don’t leave it too long. On January 1st 2018 the 2009 Practitioner and Re-registration exams will be retired and only the 2017 exams will be available. And there will be no 2017 Re-registration exam either, so you will have to sit the full 150 minute Practitioner exam to get re-registered.

But what’s that I see? A CPD option to recertify? Yes, it’s true. For the first time, AXELOS have given us another option to recertify in PRINCE2®. You can now take a CPD route. No exams! Well, not if you don’t want to. To get re-registered using this route you will need to subscribe to AXELOS’ PRINCE2® membership within 3 months of getting your Practitioner qualification, then keep it current AND complete 45 CPD points over the 3 years. The points can come from a combination of professional experience, training, community participation and self-study. You can find out more in the membership handbook on the Axelos website. I think this is a positive development and I am particularly pleased to see that it encourages such a wide variety of activities. This blog, for example, could give me points for community participation.

Those of you with a few more years left on your Practitioner certificate can simply wait until it is about to expire before you re-register. You are still a PRINCE2 Registered Practitioner until it expires and you don’t have to do anything now. You will have to sit the full Practitioner exam eventually if you want to continue to be registered, but then you can decide whether to keep taking Practitioner exams or pursue the CPD route for future re-registration.

If you are not yet a PRINCE2® Registered Practitioner and are wondering if you should go for it now or wait a bit for the new 2017 exams, then I’d say go for it now with the 2009 exams, particularly if you have 2009 Foundation already because, firstly, this means you won’t have to buy a new text book. And secondly, you get the qualification registered for longer. At QA we are very experienced at delivering PRINCE2® training courses and thousands of project managers have successfully passed their 2009 exams with us. We also offer an exam guarantee that can give you more confidence. Speak to one of our QA account managers and they will tell you how it works. If you are not so keen on exams in general then it might be worth waiting for the 2017 courses and exams as they may be slightly easier, but I think that would be the only reason to wait.

In summary then, the release of PRINCE2® 2017 has been an opportunity for a lot of positive change, particularly in the way that the methodology is examined. I’m excited to see how the project management community embraces these changes. I suspect I am going to see happier delegates and I look forward to spending less time teaching exam technique and more time discussing how PRINCE2® can be used in different project environments.

Related blogs:

PRINCE2 Re-Registration - Which path to follow

Top ten tips in becoming a project manager

Be the architect of your project management career



Sue Hopgood

Sue Hopgood

Principal Lecturer – Project & Programme Management

Sue has been involved in projects, programmes, training and development for 20 years. Her background is in application development, and along the way she started up and ran a successful software business. She taught business studies and economics up to A-level for several years but now delivers PRINCE2, MSP and APM courses for QA.
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